During the eight day long series a total number of 65 presentations were delivered by different ISKCON leaders, addressing current issues and also issues that the society will face in the future.
A group of presenters were sharing their experiences in temple management like Ananda Vrindavaneswari, temple president from Washington D.C., who spoke about the important ability of leaders to practice „deep listening“, especialy when they need to hear things they don’t want to hear. Often, she shared, just the expereince of being heard by another party was enough to improve a conflicting relationship, and this experience was beneficial for both the speaker and the listener because it gave both a peace of mind, instead of living in a constant tension and disagreement.
Temple president from London Jay Nitai das and his wife Bhava Bhakti dasi also spoke about their 10 year experience of managing a temple, and stressed the importance of taking care of devotees. Many times new people come to the temple without anyone greeting them and welcoming them, and then probably they dont come back ever again. Therefore, themanagement should be aware of devotees who are coming and doing service and they should express appreciation for every service rendered, no matter how small or insignificant. Also devotees who live in temple for 10, 20 or 30 years should feel safe and secure, not that they start to worry about what will happen to them when they cannot perform their service anymore, or in case of management change.
Connected to the topic of temple management, was also a presentation about handling conflicts and differences by Braja Bihari das, where, in a humorous way, he spoke about conflict management strategy consisting of four points:
1. Checking or paying attention to our assumptions (as many conflicts come about because of wrong assumptions).
2. Focusing on interests and not on positions. The example given to explain this shift was that of a brother and sister fighting over the last piece of orange in the fridge, only to find out that he needs the orange for the juice and she needs the orange for the peel to be used in a cake.
3. Living in a mode of goodness, which means living a regulated, healthy, harmonious lifestyle, where any problem can be anticipated from far away.
4. Finding unity in diversity, which is the motto of the GBC meetings that take place in Mayapur. We do not need to share the same opinions, but as long as we remain respectful to each other, agreements can be reached.
Some presentations were dealing with the topic of keeping tradition, and introducing innovation. The main method mentioned for not going astray from ISKCON’s tradition was reading and studying Srila Prabhupada’s books. For example, Romapada Swami showed a graph, which is a result of a research done on religious movements, where it is noted that the first generation of the acarya’s followers are relying on his intention; the second generation cannot rely on the intention anymore but must consider the context of what the leader was saying. The third generation is loosing even the context, and is left only with instructions, and if the instructions are lost, the fourth generation has only issues to deal with. Therefore, the importance of deeply reading and studying Srila Prabhupada’s books was stressed, especially using techniques like reading with a question in mind, and study groups forming and regularly meeting.
Bhanu Swami addressed a sensitive topic of ISKCON diksa (initiation), giving a historical overview of the different ways of giving Diksa in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. He made the point that what is being called as ‘first initiation’ was before called ‘nam dhan’ (or ‘name giving’), and only the second initiation, where the Pancaratrika mantras were being spoken by the diksa guru to the disciple was considered a real initiation. As ISKCON as an organisation is growing, Bhanu Swami stressted, consequently, there is a need for new diksa and also siksa gurus.
Rukmini Devi Dasi was speaking about dialogue with the public and the need to transgress cultural wars. She pointed out that in Gaudiya Vaisnavism, it is a tradition to be very open and accomodating towards people of other faiths and different cultures, and not to see them as enemies. Krishna-conciousness is about connecting people and sharing knowledge, it is not a new religious sect fighting with other groups for people, money and power.
Kalakantha das from IKSCON’s Cow Protection Ministry gave a presentation about their current efforts to introduce a program where a group of three families keep a small goshala and provide centers or temples with ahimsa milk (milk obtained from cows which are not slaughtered after they stop giving milk). In this program one family is taking care of the cow, another family is milking the cows, and third family would be in charge of selling or distributing milk. In that way, in case of emergency, there are always enough people to replace one another.
Other presentation topics included team building, increasing respect for ISKCON in society, education, book distribution, morality and ethics, etiquette, youth programs, congregational expansion, counseling, marriages, street harinam, deity worship, marketing, promoting spiritual art, servant leadership, seven purposes of ISKCON, planning for leadership succession, media interviews, economy, dialogue, speaking skills, gurukula, ISKCON laws, vanaprastha ashram, outreach, attracting millennial generations, and many others.
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies